Thursday, January 31, 2013

Lent's A-Coming

I've got Lent fever this year! Lent can definitely be hit-or-miss with me, similar to New Year's Resolutions... especially since I started to study the Gospel of Mark... but you know, some years I really can knuckle down and do some good spiritual work. At the parish, I think Lent is like a lab, full of opportunities to develop programs, try out new things, see what works and what doesn't. Over the last few years we've seen a significant increase in people attending Ash Wednesday and other Lenten holy days and programs, and it seems to be a time when people are willing to do something for their own faith development and give church a shot. This year, in response to some of the things we've been hearing in our Listening Sessions, I'll be offering a Sunday Gospel Lectio group at two different times, targeted at two different groups, and we'll continue with our Friday night Soup and Stations (which is a surprisingly big hit!) and offering extra Reconciliation times (we take part in an Archdiocesan program that has all churches open one night a week offering confession, and we post greeters at the chapel to show people where to go and answer any questions they might have). Plus, I've stolen someone else's awesome idea and will be hosting/posting a Lenten Retweet! Ha! I love that!! My version is a >140 character comment on a reading of the day for each of the 40 days of Lent.
SO much to do, so much getting ready to get ready for.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

We're Listening...

   We've started to hold a series of listening sessions for different populations/groups within our parish. We've offered, technically, three- to two different groups so far; young adults and parents of young children (age 0-5). We offered wine and cheese for the YA gathering, and had a good turnout: 10 church-going young people, who had great things to say. We offered the P-O-Y-C session twice, at 10AM and 7PM. No parents showed up to either session, except for one staff member, a ringer.
   So I have little to report about the POYC group, except guesses: I guess midday isn't going to attract parents (are there not a lot of stay-at-home parents in my parish?) and... maybe they don't have a lot to say to the Church, maybe they don't see the point, maybe they aren't looking for anything from the Church? I think we'll offer it again, just in case it was a PR thing, just in case there's someone who really wanted to come, but couldn't. But... we have recently been trying to drum up POYC to start a music class, and our leaders have really been struggling to get people to sign up with their young kids. Maybe we're seeing a lack of interest across the board for that group. I don't know... we'll keep plugging along.
   (As a side note, while I waited for no one to come to the evening session, I read some of the book that I've been carrying around with me lately, Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Weddell. It's fascinating, gasp-inducing reading. I'll have to write about it in another post, so much to say so much to say... anyone interested in joining me in reading it? We can do a book group right here, check in after every chapter...)
   The Young Adults were great- they had lots to say and some really brilliant insights. They talked about how challenging it is to stay Catholic in their lives, how critical their coworkers are about their involvement in church, their reticence to speak up about faith in public- and the questions that come their way every Ash Wednesday when they show up to work with ash on their foreheads. But they also talked about feeling a real willingness and need to go to Mass, that Mass anchors their weeks. They did not mention a sense of duty or obedience in attending Mass.
   They said that their peers who have left have gone nowhere else. They described their peers not as being angry or even disillusioned with the Church, but just not feeling a need for it. I got the feeling that young adults see their faith in a very similar way to how I see physical fitness. As if, like the gym, they know the Church there and it's an optional and probably good way of life that they're not theoretically opposed to, might get into someday (but then again, they could always walk around my neighborhood, no commitment and no expectations...) they might admire people who do it... religiously... but are probably never going to be one of those people.
   They pointed out that their peers might be attracted to being able to participate in short-term service opportunities. They mentioned that for a young adult who wants to try out living their faith, there's no entry-level volunteer activities available to them in the parish- most young adults who express an interest in volunteering are recruited to be Youth Ministry volunteers, and teaching faith may not be the first interest for someone in their 20's-30's.
   Homily-wise, about 20% of our small sample expressed a want for hot-button issues to be addressed, with clear Catholic teaching. The rest of the group, though, stressed that they did NOT want to hear these things in homilies- they wanted to hear about how to live a life of love and faith.
   We asked this group, who would have been pre-teens during the height of the sexual abuse scandal here, if their friends left because of that. They said their friends joked about it but were not distressed, back in the day... but that they remembered their parents being very upset.
   We asked the group what they thought the Church should know about them, and they didn't have a clear answer- but when I asked them what they think the Church thinks of them now, they said "they think we're just like our parents, that they don't have to reach out to us because eventually, we'll just come back." Wow.

Friday, January 25, 2013


The other day, Scott said "I feel kind of... like I'm coming down with something... like, I have the chills?" Later that night he was fine, and that was the end of the story.
What I realize now is that I was witnessing the phenomenon of a cold germ bouncing off him, and onto me.
Which leads us to today- Scott is heading off to his retreat weekend (leading, not participating) and I am in my pajamas, draining the DVR and making droll Facebook updates about sitcoms, and blowing my nose.
I have been feeling doomed all winter, or at least since this flu bug hit. You know how they say "it's a recession when your neighbor loses his job, a depression when you lose yours"? Well it's a flu epidemic when someone you know lands in the hospital for 5 days because she can't breathe, and it's the FLU! That's what happened to a co-worker of ours, and she's still on oxygen. The FLU people!! So, although I usually do crazy things while Scott's away (oh you know, shopping sprees, carb-filled dinners, department store makeovers, sleepovers and pillowfights with girlfriends...), this time I'm staying put, snuggling kittens and applying lotion to the crust that has formed around my nostrils.
Oh... you're here to read about Youth Ministry? I did mention that Scott's on retreat, right? YOUTH MINISTRY!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Notes From Somewhere Else

Today, somehow, we got the day off. SO weird to be home on a Sunday, watching the Patriots like all the other people in the world. Sure, we probably would be watching, with the 6:30 start time, but we had all day to prepare! Weird.
We talked about what we wanted to do for Mass. Scott was in let's-just-do-this mode, happy to go to our neighborhood parish (we don't live near work), which would have been fine, but I wanted to do something wild and exotic. I suggested an early-ish morning Mass in a nearby city, followed by brunch. Brunch! People do that on Sunday, and they say it's awesome! But the early-ish morning was a non-starter (ha! literally! good one!) for Scott. He countered with an 11:30 at a country parish up the road. (I should give credit where credit's due, Scott got up wicked early and we had time to have breakfast before the fast, made it in plenty of time!)
I love to visit other churches for Mass, it's always a gamble. This one was a winna! Small parish, effervescent (but sincere) priest, who greeted us at the door when we came in. He had a voice and delivery that made me think, throughout the Mass, that he was about to say "let's get ready to RUMMMBLLLLLLLLLE!!!" (but he never did).
The music was nice (outside of some cheesy synth organ music), singable, and the cantor was great. There were lots of young people there, and we checked- they didn't have CCD right before or after. They all seemed to be there with their families. Such a good sign.
On a side note, the couple in front of us had 4 girls with them, and the youngest one came in MAD. She fake-cried into her sleeve for a full 30 minutes, and sat half off the end of the pew, to keep as much distance as possible between her and her family. I had to admire her dedication and stick-toitive-ness. By the end she was feeling better, but still holding an obvious grudge.
The homily was really nice- the pastor talked about the Wedding of Cana being the story where Mary is introduced as an intercessor, and talked about God's willingness to hear seemingly trivial requests. He invited us to pray for whatever we needed Mary's intercession for- actually gave us a minute to pray during the homily. How nice is that? Homilies are usually one-way communication, but he acknowledged our presence and invited us to take his word that Mary would intercede for us. He allowed for the possibility that the people there might have worries and things on our minds. It was really nice.
We left thinking how nice it would be to be part of this parish. It was definitely worth the trip!


   I seriously considered not telling anyone my new year's resolution this year, because... well...
Every year I do try to make a resolution, and as I may have blogged about in the past, I've gotten a good run out of some of them. One year I resolved to Be Brave, and that year contained one of my best summers ever, working on the maintenance crew at college- something I never would have done without that resolution.
   In more recent years, I've been more prayerful about my resolution and have been pretty hit-or-miss about following through. I vaguely remember something about a forty-two-nup (get it, tune up?), that I flagged completely. I don't even remember what last year's was, and I'm afraid to read back, to see how badly I did. I think I remember it was a word, rather than a resolution. Huh, now I'm curious... well, fortunately this year's res. isn't to avoid procrastination, so I can do it later.
   ANYHOOO again this year, I prayed for some direction, and got back bad news. It was that I should be RTG- ready to go.  Blah, just typing that makes me sad, but I know that the year ahead will probably give me lots of movement to get ready for. Maybe I'll need to get ready to go to a new parish, or (yikes) a new kind of job. Maybe we'll have to move for work. Maybe my parents will have to move again, which will take some getting ready, even though we're not the go-ers in that scenario.
   Soon after I'd resolved to resolve to be RTG, Scott mentioned that he thought we should find a new apartment. I panicked, and gave him all sorts of good reasons to stay put (not the least of which is how much I love this apartment and the very real possibility that we may be needing to move within the next year or two, for work.  I hate moving, and would really hate to move somewhere only to have to move again a year later). I felt like my bluff had been called. 
   So, I'm getting ready to get ready. I'm trying to be more willing to get up and go when opportunities arise, saying yes more, and trying not to be so wedded to my current location and life, as much as I adore it. I'd like to pare down some of the stuff I have, clean out and simplify. I think for Lent we'll go back to the "five things a day" rule of getting rid of things, for all 40 days (you know, except Sundays... ha!) and that'll help me feel readier to go.
   But all the time I'll be getting ready, I'll hope not to have to go.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


   Tonight at our parish we begin a series of listening sessions- we're inviting specific groups from our parish population to come, have some wine and cheese, and tell us their opinions on the church, the Church, their lives, their faith, and what they want/need from us. We have been advertising on Facebook and by word of mouth, and are hoping someone will show up.
   This first gathering is for young adults... we asked for those between the ages of 21-35. The age range is tricky to identify, because age seems so relative nowadays. I thought about inviting up to 40-year-olds, but thought that the needs of a 21YO and a 40YO must be significantly different... right? We'll do another session for adults in their 40s and 50s. We've already scheduled sessions for parents of young children, parents of elementary-aged children, parents of middle and high school students. We want to hold sessions for divorced people, for those married in the last 10 years (I'm especially curious to hear from this group), senior citizens, and whoever else we can figure out to include.
    We want to hear from people about what they need. The sessions come in part out of a desire to  prepare for collaboration, due to begin in our parish a year from July, by knowing who we are as we start the process. What is our charism as a parish? What do we do well, and what should we be doing better? But also, we genuinely, always, want to do better- who should we be serving, that we're missing now? What do these groups wish that we knew about them?

    Meanwhile, I'm doing some research on these young adults, helped along nicely by  NPR's current series about young adult "nones"- who don't identify themselves with a religious denomination at all, but qualify and quantify their faith. These are the "spiritual, but not religious" folks we always seem to be hearing  about. The fact that this generation feels free to access God without the supplier of a church says something about who they are and what they believe to begin with. I still know so many older adults (my age and up) who consider the two to be a package deal- they don't believe in God because they don't believe in the Church. It's a big difference in viewpoints.

    Here's another interesting article about this "quarter-life-crisis" generation, and a review of books about twenty-somethings,  that I'll have in hand tonight as we gather with whoever is willing to show up. It's interesting stuff. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Non-Whiny Varia: Cool Stuff

I suppose you've just about had enough of my moaning about the sorry state of the Church or what-will-become-of-me, so here are some cool things, to win you back over.

This guy is photographing suitcases left in the attic at an asylum in New York State. I can't remember where I learned about this project, but it led me to read (practically) this guy's entire blog. I like how interested he is in things, and love how he appreciates light.

The suitcases are fas-as-ascinating and I hope he does a ton more.

This article's title grabbed me, because I am always shooting for success, you know me. But seriously, there's a part in here where one of the guys talks about not worrying about the future and I found it oddly inspiring. I guess I fail the psycopathy test. that's good, right?

With the new year comes new opportunities to exercise what little bit of self-discipline I can muster up, and cut out carbs (except for special occasions, when I'm eating out, when someone else is serving/buying, when I'm happy or sad, or when I don't have time to plan... ha!) Any, here's the gist of why eating this way is actually pretty easy and ever so enjoyable.

Hey will someone please remind me the next time I need to name a pet to name it Brownie? I remembered the other day some story about Dad's family pets always being named Brownie, no matter what their color, and thought it would be a good tradition to carry on. I don't even know if I've got the story right... siblings? Our kittens have definitely grown into their names, and their names have evolved- we now call Katy "Katy Lou" and added a middle name for Charley- he's officially Charles Washington, named after my Dad. Neither of them answer to their names, or to anything at all, but we like the choices we've made.

 We live in an old house. It's full of old charming qualities and quirks, and one of them is drain issues. Last year the apartment upstairs had a leak between tenants, and our kitchen ceiling rained. It rained!! In our kitchen!! The plumber had to come and pulled two unidentifiable corpses (squirrels? skunks? ferrets? they kind of looked like ferrets, but they really were unidentifiable) from the pipes, and all was restored. BUT HOW DID THEY GET IN THERE? No one has been able to figure that out. THAT is what living in an old house is all about, my friends.

I bring this all up by way of telling you about our slow kitchen drains, which are somehow connected to our bathroom sink and bathtub drains. I know it's not supposed to be that way, but again... old house... every several months the drains start to slow, then stop, and THAT's when we pull out the CLR POWERRRR PLUMBERRRRR!!! It's seriously so cool that I have probably blogged about it before. It basically shoots compressed air through the pipes, blowing the clog out somewhere into the neighbor's yard.

Today, we were secretly excited that it was drain-blasting time again, and took our stations. Scott was the power plumber and I was to cover the other drain with a towel to keep the power from shooting out the wrong way. But it did just that- found a gap in my coverage and blasted a sink full of grubby water all over me, and down Scott's pants, and across the kitchen. It was awesome. The drain is clear, too, so win-win.

Look at this quote from a product review on Amazon:
"I got it and follow the instruction, few seconds later, it clear up. I could not believed my nightmare finally over just like that!"
That's pretty much how I feel. If you have quirky pipes (in your house) either get some of this, or call me to come over with mine. You'll be wowed.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

What is the PLAN????

   I met with my pastor today to plan our parish council meeting. We're still a year off from joining the local Archdiocesan pastoral plan in practical terms, but we are anxious to get started at least envisioning the future.      
   I mentioned in a recent post that I am a girl who likes a plan. I'm starting to see what a defining characteristic that is for me. At this point as a parish, we have several possible futures before us, but we haven't been told clearly which one to head toward. In fact, the honest-if-taboo truth is that the closest thing we have to a plan is that we are being encouraged to work toward a future that might not be possible. I sat in front of my pastor today and said "I want to know what the goal really is! Even if it's not an ideal goal, at least we can get to work on moving toward that goal pastorally."
   But just because I want an assignment that I can get to work on, that doesn't mean I'll get one. We joked that I could just "live the lie" and move toward this outcome for now, until I hear differently. Okay.
   Meanwhile my mother is in a health crisis that goes from fast-to-slow, from progress to regression, from togetherness to not-with-it-ness. She is not following a tidy path toward either direction, and I find myself just wishing it were more black or white. White would be lovely but at least black would be something I could wrap my brain around and make a strategy for.
   Even as a kid, I remember coming home from school with a bad result and racing, rather than taking my time, toward my fate. I wanted to go ahead and know the outcome, rather than wonder how bad it might be.
It's a selfish attitude, I s'pose. I'm cool with things going to hell because at least once we get there I can start to work writing up a map of the place. I should be... hoping for the best? Well, if the best is the destination, then let's get to work in that direction. Just give me the plan!

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Product Placement

   I listened to On The Media in the car this weekend, on my way home from wedding festivities. It was about the state of television. They reported, among other things, that people are not watching network TV.  Many people now either DVR the shows they want to see and ignore the rest (including the ads) or watch what they want to watch on Hulu or Netflix. They also talked about how watching TV used to be a social activity- friends watched together, family sat together in one room to watch.
   I can witness to all of this. My family watched TV together all my growing-up-years. We had to agree on a show, we shared favorites, and we had to be there on time to watch- we had to use the commercial breaks for snack-getting, for running to the bathroom. There was no pausing. We laughed together, talked about what we'd seen, shared inside jokes from our favorite shows. My parents saw what we were seeing, and kept us from seeing things they didn't approve of.
   Now, Scott and I often watch separate shows on separate TVs in separate rooms,  and although we sometimes talk about the shows we watch, it's not in real-time, not usually immediately following a show.
There are benefits to this new way of watching- we don't have to wait, don't have to miss any punchlines because we can pause, don't have to suffer through shows we're not interested in. We can go straight to the thing we want. It means TV is customized, on-demand, and not muddied by annoying ads. We don't have to choose between seeing our favorite shows and other activities.
   Of course, advertisers are not happy with this new arrangement. We the people don't feel the need to listen to the sales pitches, don't feel the need to share our experience with others, don't feel the need to be at a certain place at a certain time. Advertisers have lost control over the experience of television viewing. We are messing up their model.
   It made me think about this "spiritual but not religious" time we're living through as a church. Like TV viewers, many Christians don't feel the need to listen to the sales pitch that they might view Mass as. They don't see the benefit of praying in community (and full and conscious participation is being edged out of the picture slowly anyway, leaving the worshiper little to do but sit and watch). They don't want to be tied down to a certain time of the day or of the week to be in God's house when, after all, God's already at their house, now. Christians are more and more comfortable with a customized, on-demand relationship with God, and the Church is feeling the strain of having lost control over the experience of worshiping.
   Advertisers, among other things, are reverting back to an old technique- product placement. They're finding out where viewers' eyes are, and placing their product there. After all, people still like to watch shows. The ad agencies can't rely on the old techniques of blasting the volume and filling the spaces between shows with ads, and now they have to find new ways of getting their product and name out.
   What's the lesson for the Church? Is it time to see that we can no longer rely on people coming to fill our pews to be evangelized to? Is our goal to fill our Masses (thereby paying our bills, building community, continuing a tradition of communal worship) or to spread the Good News? Can we spread the Good News in more ways than Mass, and would that be okay? Is it okay not to look at other venues? If we just keep on keeping on, will we put ourselves out of business?